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tv   Book Discussion on Harlems Rattlers and the Great War  CSPAN  August 10, 2014 2:15pm-3:46pm EDT

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48 hours of nonfiction authors and books every weekend. here's a primetime like lineup tonight. at 7:45 p.m. eastern, bruce rideel who intent 30 years with the cia details what he calls america's secret war in afghanistan. at 8:45, jenny nordberg talks about her book, the underground girls of kabul. john dean discusses watergate with bob woodward at 9'm. and joseph leyland describes the final days of the confederacy at 10:00 p.m. and we wrap it at 1:00 p.m. eastern with chars marsh. he talks about the life of deitrick bohnhoffer, tonight on c-span's booktv. >> you're watching booktv. next, jeffrey sammons recount this first african-american
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rental meant to fight in world war i. he examines the regiment's leadership, its actions in the field of battle, and the challenges the men faced following the war. this is an hour and a half. >> now, gives me great pleasure to introduce the man of the hour, jeffrey t. sammons. a professor in the department of history at new york university, where he has taught since 1989, rutgers research fellow at rutgers university camden and completed his critically acclaimedded "beyond the ring" role of boxing in american society in 2001.
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sammons was awarded a fellowship by the shomberg center of research. and received a national endownment humanities in support of harlem rattlers and the great war. sammons is a native of bridge ton, new jersey, earned his bachelors in history at rutgers college, where he graduated magna cum laude, and elected to identify -- phi beta kappa in 1971. he earned a masters agreeing in history from tufts university and a ph.d in american history in 1982. in 1983-84, he was a post doctoral fellow at the university of capetown. after his return from south africa, sammons became involved
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in the antiapartheid movement and played an important role in the city of houston's disinvestment campaign, sammons continued his community service as the director of a charity golf event for the naacp legal defense fund, as a board member of the clear view legacy foundation, a black funded, owned, and operated golf course, on the national historic registry in east canton, ohio-at an adviser on historical and diversity matters in the professional golfer's association of america, as a member of the museum of library committee of the united states golf association, and as a member of the usga, pga, african-american golf archives working group. sammons has written widely on the subject of sport and race,
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and has participated and consulted on numerous documentary projects with independent filmmakers as well as large television networks. he is now deeply involved in efforts to collect, preserve, and represent that which relates to the african-american experiences in golf and will write his next book on the subject. sammons has served on the editorial board of the journal of sport history, and as an assistant editor of sport and social issues. he has also taught at princeton university, and at holts college in virginia as a jesse ball dupont scholar. [applause] >> welcome to our stage.
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please make yourself comfortable. now, before you begin, you're not going to be but so long because we want to have time for conversation. >> sure. >> okay, all right. and then at that time, after you have done this, i'm going to introduce your conversation partner, okay, roger green. >> have to listen to the women. >> i should have given her the short version of the resume so that we can have more time for the discussion, but in any event, i want to thank the adelaide sanford institution, dr. linda k. paterson, for
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coming up with the idea for this event, and for the support of the center for black literature at medgar evers college, headed by dr. brenda green, and by clarence reynolds, who have been a great help to me. identity also like to thank roger green, who has actually completed the monumental task of reading this book. and lost a lot of sleep last night as a result. let me move on to a brief introduction to harlem's rattlers and the great war. i'd like to begin first by reading from something that william pickens wrote.
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william pickens was a scholar, an activist, with an naacp and the early 1900s, and this it was william pickens says about blacks and the first world war. we to end overlook the first world war as an important event in the african-american experience. we think about civil rights movements, we sort of tie it to brown v. board of education as if 1954 is the start of the civil rights movement, or rosa parks' refusal to leave her seat on the bus, or maybe even tie it to world war ii, but we don't think about world war i as an important event in the history of african-americans. here's what pickens had to say about that. what the war made clear to all,
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especially blacks, was that character is more fundamental than reputation. just think of that. character is more fundamental than reputation. what does that mean? it means to me that reputation is something that is imposed from the outside, and that character is what comes from within, and one lesson i would like for you to take away tonight from this event is that black people need not worry so much about what others think about them, say about them, do to them. it's what we feel about ourselves that is really important. and i'm going to say one thing that i have found as a result of writing this book, and that is that we are one great people to have survived to have thrived,
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considering all that we have endured, and continue to endure. now, i should also say, i did that at the harvard club, and i left it there. but we can't do it alone. we rev hauls needed white friends -- we have auld needed white friends. frederick doug losses needed white friends. we needed white friend inside the civil rights movement, and we need white friends today, and as general james, general nag nathaniel james, the commander of the 369th regular minimum, will you stand up -- as he well knows -- with his lovely wife, who has been a stalwart in terms of the historical society, which general james heads as well as the veterans association, mrs. james, will you please stand. thank you. [applause]
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i'm honored they're here this evening. but general james knows how important hamilton fish iii was to the success of the 369th, especially after the war, and he is a charter member of the veterans association and his son, hamilton fish iv, a 13-term congressman, as was his father, was very instrumental in the establishment or congressional approval of the 369th veterans association. but back to william pickens. pickens said that world war i showed clearly that blacks had become, from a most undesirable element to the most reliable
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element in america as symbolized and recognized by the calling out of the national guard troops to protect the white house. the war had allowed blacks from africa and america the opportunity to make their first great record as a modern, international factor, and a positive world influence. and this was a lesson never to be lost on blacks. world war i helped to produce a self-confident new negro, and all change that came later owes much to the forward looking and forward-moving people of the time. so that is my introduction tonight to contextualize it. i'd like to run through images in the book, whet your appetite so you will buy the book.
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i'll sign it for you. i hope to increase the value for you. and it also will introduce you some of the important events and figures in the regular meant -- regiment and will serve as some text for discussion that professor green and i will have. so here we have a commemorative history, and this was presented by the officers of the regiment to benjamin o. davis, sr., the first black commander of the 369th regiment, and you can see the first of the regiment. first to the ride, never lost a man to capture, never gave up a foot of ground that had been taken, and here we have also the symbol of the rattlesnake, and that's why this book is called holiday harlem's rattlers."
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that's that the men called themselves itch believe hard legal hellfighters was something that the press would give them, and believe it or not, the reason why it stuck in addition to its repetition in the press, was that the most visible symbol of the 369th after the war was the band. a lot of people don't know this but the 369th was disbanded after the war. it was decommissioned. there was no 369th anymore after world war i. so the band became the most visible representative of the 369th. they embraced the term "hellfighters," often called the hellfighter band. i've seen ads, past music album cover has hellfighters band, et cetera, it's. so that says something about the -- burt williams was an early recruiter for the regiment. very close to william haterman,
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its first commander. here we have charles young, who should have been the first black commander of the regiment. in fact he should have been the first commander period. and he was drummed out of active duty and restored to active duty after the war. he actually died in africa, and this is when he is about to leave for africa. i think he dies in 1923. there we see an early shot of the men of the 15th national guard which was their original designation, and then they're drilling in harlem. waldo sheet is an interesting character. he killed somebody in the regiment and almost destroyed the regiment in his court-martial. there we have the men in the trenches with their french helmets, french equipment, but american uniforms, and we'll see the rifles and the grenade
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launchers. there at the bottom we have henry johnson and needham roberts. by the way, henry johnson's application for the medal of honor has passed muster with the secretary of the army. it is now on the secretary of defense's desk. chuck hagel, as well as the chiefs of staff of the -- the army chief of staff, to see if henry johnson will get a medal of honor. this is two people who have been misidentified as henry johnson and needham roberts. that's a photograph by james vanders. famous rendering of the battle of henry johnson at the top, and then below it, the band led by james sure. three portraits of members of the 369th, and we see here they have their brodys back. the brody is the flat helmet
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that could have happened before they actually were with the french or after, when they left the french service. here -- these are at west point, by the way, and they're in color. very beautiful painting. s. here we have general james, the monument, and this is the great assault of the 369th, where most obtained their glory. remember, 171 individuals in the regiment and the entire regiment received an award as well. we didn't get -- we -- the k until 1997, after many years of battle. this is the yale -- old arman in the mountains near the german
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border. many people don't know that there was a campaign there that involved the 369th, and below that is a plaque honoring the 369th for their service and this is the area close to the rhine, and the 369th were the first to the explain the first to cross it of the american troops. so then we have a painting representing the 369th on the rhine. below that, colonel heyward with a number of recipients of the award. here we have laurel r. spencer, who is difficult to see but the person who is having a medal pinned on him is hamilton fish. next to him is charles fill -- fillmore, the person most spoken for the regiments exist against, and then we have widows and mothers of deceased soldiers,
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and thin william burt -- butler who won the distinguished service award. and then henry johnson, upon his return, on ship. the parade of the party, people watching the parade, and of course at the armory, which was built in two stages, 1924 for the administrative building, and then the drill shed in 1930. there we have benjamin o. davis senior, first commander, as i indicated. chauncey hooper, the second black commander. came up through the ranks, was sergeant major in the regiment in world war i and roger, you can appreciate, chauncey was very involved in new york city and state politics. here we have a riff on john mccray's famous in plannedders
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field, written we abdi razoff who wrote songs with fats waller and is -- i didn't know he was of color but he is, and of course here is the famous rendering by charles rogers of the battle of henry johnson. he titled it, two first class americans. when it was rebushed in the black paper, the chicago defender, they said, two real americans. so they wanted to really establish how firmly these people, these men were americans. so, i am ready now to enter a discussion with professor green. i hope i was not too long. dr. patterson, dr. green, mr. reynolds, thank you very much. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> thank you, professor, and i
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personally know that there is so much to this story, i compel you to be sure to review the book. it's so much information there. and now, as we get ready for our conversation, i'd like to introduce to you professor roger l. green. roger green is executive directyear of the dubois bunch center. the center is a think tank dedicated to advancing best practices in law and policy and community covenants that advance social and economic justice for urban communities within the united states and throughout the african diaspora. he was appointed as a distinguished lecturerred a meds
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gar evers college in the city university of new york in 2006, from 1981 to 2005, he served as an elected member of the new york state assembly. during his tenure, in the state legislature, green was widely acknowledged as an expert on educational reform and children and family policies. a long-standing advocate of civil and human rights, green worked within the legislature -- within the legislative process to enact numerous laws that reflected his commitment to these principles. and in addition to his responsibilities at the dubois bunch center, green is a professor of public administration and the publisher of the soon to be released
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solutions journal. welcome, professor green. [applause] >> so, this was a monumental task, and we have finals this week, and in many of my students are cramming. i crammed last night. but it was worthwhile, really was. this is an incredible book. i want to start basically from personal reflections, because a lot of times that sounds -- when you read a historical book of this nature, it forces you to reflect on some of your own personal experiences, and so i would start thinking about my father, who had served in the military during world war ii, and i was activist against the war, and i knew he was not happy
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about the vietnamese war either. but in his last days, he called my brother and i to his bedside, and he said, have you prepared? i want you to make sure all my stuff is in order. i've written everything out, and he said, i want to be buried in the military cemetery. i was like -- i was shocked. he said, i want the flag over my casket. and i paused, and i said, are you sure? and he said, this is my country. period. and -- [applause] and it really hit me. so reading this book, i think to a great extent really stirred up some serious emotions and i want to start -- the title is "harlem
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rattlers" and the great war. the undaunted regiment and the african-american quest for equality. throughout the narrative it's clear that you're trying to articulate the fact that the securing african-american regimental service was a -- was like breaking the glass ceiling, particularly in the context of a -- an error that was overwhelmed by jim crow laws, brutal racial oppression, and you documented that. on page -- chapter 1, page 24, you write: black americans have long known that in the national narrative of the nation, manhood finds no better representative
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than citizens -- than the citizen soak soldier who initially has secured the nation's defense as a member of the militia. could you articulate for us what you meant by that and how you attempted -- or you successfully demonstrated that particular thought throughout your book. >> well, war is a gendering experience, and of course it's been gendered mass christian, or -- masculine, or male, and for blacks to be denice the opportunity to demonstrate their man christianity or manliness will relegate them to second class citizenship. blacks also saw military participation as an avenue to freedom. we have black participation in the revolutionary war. people name themselves,ed in
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freedom, jupiter liberty, so that -- so to the they're aspiring to freedom if they have not received it already. frederick douglass tells black men in new york city? his famous call colored men to arm, if we don't fight for freedom in the civil war against the slave owners, then freedom will lose half its luster. so this wases an opportunity for blacks to prove themselves and that's one of the reasons why establishing a national guard unit in new york state was so important to all black new yorkers, but especially to black men. >> in another chapter in the book you talk about how in some states, particularly the state of illinois and chicago, they had already secured an
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african-american regiment, and new york was thinking they're very hip, you know, first in population, first in money and harlem in particular had not achieved that success. and so i think it was an editorial in one newspaper that blasted the african-american community and said that we're not living up to the standard of the folks in illinois. >> at first in social organizations. >> right. >> fraternal societies that do this, that and the other, bury all the dead possible. >> that's right. >> but no political power whatsoever, and tameny hall is a monster. tameny is really controlled by irish-americans. the republicans are taking blacks for granted.
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tameny sets up something called the united colored democracy, which is a black auxiliary of tameny hall at the citywide level, and as you know as a former assemblyman and i hope i can call you politician -- >> yes. >> -- become such a dirty word these days but in any event, the action is at the precinct and ward level. that's where the spoils are. and chicago blacks worked the system to their minimum disadvantage. you heard what i said? minimum disadvantage. and so they were able to use their political clout in illinois. they had a black regiment meant -- wasn't the eighth illinois yet. first called the 16th 16th battalion in 1878. moreover, that regiment was officered by blacks from the top
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down when it became the 8th 8th illinois in the 1890s at the time of the spanish american war. that became a source of envy for black new yorkers, as you said, who thought they were the cat's meow when it came to who is the black metropolis and then another says that chicago has got not only the regiment, it has the peeken theater. we don't even have a black theater in new york. >> that's right. >> my sense is that you also describe that the -- in fact you use the term in the chapter that the political process in new york city was byzantine and was that one of the reasons why they were not able to organize themselves to secure an african-american regiment? >> you also note they were
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blacks were fighting among themselves. >> that's what i -- yeah. >> and one of the major instigators of friction between blacks was booker t. washington, in new york. we think of booker t. washington as a southern operator. booker t. washington had operatives all over. his tuskegee machine had wide screech control of black newspapers, and charles anderson was his man in new york. he kept booker t. apprised of everything that was going on, and charles anderson was a stalwart republican, and no matter what the democrats might try to do for blacks that might benefit them, and the regiment was one of those things -- if the republicans believed that the democrats were going to get
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credit for then they would find a way of blocking it, and if i didn't do it politically, as general james well knows, that national guard leadership is going to block it, and john francis o'ryan was very connected to tameny hall and was extremely hostile to the idea of a black national guard regiment and did everything he could to block it. now -- >> describe who o'ryan was. >> the commander of the new york national guard. a major general, and he would become police commissioner as well. but he operated for a very long time. he didn't want any -- didn't want a black national gnarl unit thism black national guard is not just a militaryfip/$ z organization. especially this time it's more of a social club. >> that's right. >> into all about prestige and status, connected to employment opportunities, et cetera, things they did not want blacks to health you let blacks in the club, it drags you down. that's the way they saw things.
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so, o'ryan not only blocked the establishment of a regiment, when he regiment is finally approved, he make showers it has a white commander, and he believes there will no black officers by the time the regiment is federalized and goes to europe. that didn't happen. it had five napoleon bone part harvard graduates, harvard law school, was a captain, charles ward fillmore, who established a provisional regiment which was part of the recognized regiment, was a captain. james reed as the band leader but he was a lieutenant in the machinegun battalion, and then we have dennis lincoln reed and george lacy, who were
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lieutenants as well. go ahead. >> in addition to the politicians who were attempting to secure this regiment, could you describe the role -- this was fascinating -- of the media, particularly the black press, in new york city. chicago defender in chicago, and then, of course in new york city. >> well, the role of the black -- >> in advocating for. >> depended. because there was -- depended on what the politics were often times as to how it came down on something. and, for example, the new york age would claim credit for, in
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some ways forks stare0. the regiment, but i believe it's fred moore who is the editor who is ambivalent at best in terms of his attitude towards a regiment, depending on which side would seem to be getting political credit for it. >> what about -- i read that the -- this is interesting -- a. phillip randolph, the -- his organ was the messenger, and he writes, patriotism has no appeal to us, justice has. they were opposed to the regiment -- >> well, a. phillip randolph -- and i'm blanking -- chandler owen. >> they were socialists. >> so. so you hit upon it. and that. >> that is an interesting point to talk about why the military has not been given credit,
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because the mill -- especially for the '60s when we have black power and in some ways randolph and owen are sort of representing a kind of black power ideology at that point in time, but that military was seen as the man's operation. so if you got in the military, you were part of the opresser. remember, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem? and certainly the military was definitely seen as part of the problem. dubois was ambivalent, too, and then he came out with his urge or encouragement to blacks to support the war effort, and he was really roundly criticized.
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and tried to regroup later with, we return fighting. but he told blacks to put their grievances aside during the war effort. many people don't know that dubois actually supported wilson for president,. >> that's right. >> which shows you how bad the political situation was for blacks, not only in new york city but at a national level, because runs were taking blacks for granted. one, leonard quigg, who said you cannot drive blacks out of the republican party with a sledgehammer, despite the fact that the republicans had -- especially with taft engaged in something called lily whitism, where they were basically removing blacks from the republican party all over the nation, especially in the south. >> this was the -- what i appreciated about the book is because you paint the picture of
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the social forces that were weighed against the entire african-american community, and why this symbol of the rental meant became something they- -- of the rental meant became something they could galvanize around. one part of the book which was fascinating this, gentleman, charles ward fillmore, the equity congress, and howl they organized to secure this regiment, and then even they're came back from the war, organized in an attempt to preserve it and to ensure that there would be african-american offices. >> and a black commander. >> the equity congress is supposed to be a nonpartisan organization, but fillmore is an ally of anderson, and a staunch republican, and this causes serious problems within the equity congress because there
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were a number of democrats as well, frank wheaton was one of them, and i'm trying to think of -- chief lee, et cetera. so there was actually warfare within the equity congress that almost destroyed the regiment movement. >> what is fascinating is they were organizing and sometimes mass rallies of over 4,600 people. >> yes. >> the fact he could keep together a unit, a provisional regiment, which was established in 1911, a thousand men, he was able -- together until 1916, despite all the obstacles thrown in their way, and of course, disparagement, actually almost character assassination of him, and for the way that officers were selected and cronyism, et
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cetera, et cetera, even marshall who was the commander of the 8th illinois, came to new york and actually did a review, a report, on the unofficial of the progress of the 15th new york -- actually the provisional regiment at the time, and his report was highly critical, which also almost led to the destruction of the regiment. ago thing that happened is when the legislation came from albanyin' 1913 to authorize the establishment of the regiment with a democratic governor by the name of william solser, who would be impeached and convicted and removed from office eventually, the order was that this regiment was to be formed entirely within 90 days, but the national guard leadership decided they were going to muster in the regiment company
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by company, to drag out the process, and they also decided they would basically fail every man who came for examination, came up for examination, to be an officer in the regiment. the adjutant general in the whitman administration of 1916, said it was joke. that nobody took the legislation of 1913 seriously. so they were playing with these guys, but fillmore managed to still keep this thing together and when there's a manpower shortage in the new york national guard, we have new york national guardsmen chasing poncho via down -- poncho villa on the mexican border, and whitman is a pro-war republican, sees an opportunity to get this regiment actually established with the compromise that he had
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to make to general orion, white commander, very few, if any, black officers. >> so, as we progress, now fine that we have regiment. the war -- world war i begins. wilson enters the united states into world war i. african-americans in this regiment are then directed to sparksburg, south carolina -- >> spartanburg, south carolina. >> for training in preparation to go over to europe, and so you start in this particular chapter, you begin talking about the war over there and the war here. particularly the types of
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hostile racial attitudes they had to face, and regions of the south that just only less than 50 years ago had been engaged in civil war over the question of slavery. why don't you talk about that, and particularly -- well, just -- >> well there was great concern about sending the regiment into spartanburg, south carolina. in fact, hamilton fish had written to franklin roosevelt, his buddy at the time -- became dire enemies later on -- but he kind of grew up with roosevelt, and roosevelt was the assistant secretary of the navy, and he wrote him about, why are you sending these black troops into this hostile territory? they went and, as predicted, there was racial friction basically from the beginning,
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and, look, these were -- the spartanburg folks said we know how to deal with our black folks. black folks from the south. but you bringing down these northern negroes who don't know their place and also there's puerto ricoans with them. so they really were prepared for bear, as you would say, and so heyward had to rally talk to his men about not retaliating against any kind of racial epithets or even physical assault. it'sing and that some of the guys from the 27th division guys were down there as well. that's the new york national guard. remember, it's interesting, too, that this black regiment is recognized in new york state but it's never an organic part of
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the new york national guard 27th division. and in fact, it is called, colored, in that regiment, but it's also brigaded in a provisional brigade of the fourth provisional brigade. so it was like a detached appendage. it was never really a part. so the 27th division was down at spartanburg but the 15th 15th new york national guard was separate from them even in spartanburg. they were there at the same time but some of the men actually stood up for the black soldiers of the 15th new york national guard. then there's the incident that involves james reed, the nobel -- this was the turning point. they said we have to get these men out of here or we're going to have a race riot on our hands in spartanburg, south
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carolina. >> i think that to me this was an interesting, again, part of the book, because you used the term retaliation. so much of the popular media that we see in terms of the role of black soldierses are considered passive. the fear that white folks in spartanburg had was in part related to what some african-american soldiers had done both in east st. louis and in houston. it was massacre in east st. louis, but in houston, the so-called riot, the blacks went into houston and took revenge on something that happened to a black woman involved with a white policeman. people were killed, and of
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course, something -- 13 members of that 24 division -- i'm sorry -- regiment were actually summarily executed. ... >> here you have, like, noble sis , you know, restraining himself after being abused and beaten in a hotel, white soldiers coming to his defense, right?
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but also you have a chapter, i mean, you say that beating is one thing, but if there was a lynching, there was a sense even in terms of the top military brass that that was something that trim -- african-american soldiers would most likely retaliate against. >> yeah, i would agree with that. but let me say one other thing that, that -- don't, let's not put this all on the south. this regiment had trouble in northern -- >> tell them about new jersey. >> well, also mills and also yaffank in long island. >> right. >> but camp merritt very close to englewood, there were all kinds of incidents that occurred there. at camp mills there was this
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alabama regiment that was given -- >> right. >> -- the men of the 15th fits. actually, hamilton fish involved himself in that, and the there was a black boxer in the regiment by the name of george -- [inaudible] [laughter] and they were ready to take on any comers. but the men had no ammunition, but fish said that they were prepared to get that ammunition, and the alabama regiment knew it and backed off. but they had brutalized a black man on a train before, poked out his eye, threw him off the train, got away with it scot-free. and it was a southern officer who was causing or maybe even more than one causing all kinds of problems at camp merritt in tenafly. but the feeling was we need to get those guys overseas where they can fight the enemy rather than have a race war.
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>> that's right. >> -- at home. >> and so what happens when they go overseas? what is the difference in terms of their reception with the french -- >> well, let's, let's -- we missed a step. >> okay. >> because originally here's what happens. how did they become the 369th from the 15th new york national guard? and, in fact, many of the men would hold on to that designation and would call themselves the old 15th or the fighting 15th long after the war, a story that they carried the new york state flag throughout the war. they had become part, without their knowledge, part of a provisional 93rd division that would include in addition to the 15th the 8th illinois which is the chicago national guard unit
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which became the 370th, and there's a 371st which is a combination of national guard and regular army, and then the 3 72nd which was all regular army in this provisional 93rd division. it only existed on paper. it never existed as a real division on the ground. and, in fact, the 369th was over there long before the 370th, 371st or 372 around. but then they first arrived, the plan was to have that professional division be a labor battalion or a labor operation. and our men are serving as steve dores, unloading ships, track layers, canal diggers, etc. so hayward is going to pershing
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in the af headquarters saying, look, our men were trained as combatants, and you have them doing labor duty. this is a waste of manpower, morale is down, etc. the other thing is that the designation 369th is for a draftee unit, and that's why they resented it, because they're volunteers. >> right. >> national guard. so, but what tipped the scales in favor of their going into combat was that the french were desperate for reip forcements. reinforcements. and command paton of the french army, who would be disgraced in world war ii but was a distinguished general in world war i, begs pershing to give them reinforce bements. won't give them any white reinforcements because the americans want to take credit for winning the war, as it were, being there, you know, a year
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basically and also not only winning the war, but winning the peace or positioning themselves to win the peace. so pershing relents, but there's a back and forth with the war department about this, whether they're going to allow it, and finally pershing prevails. and by march the 369th -- which they learned of their designation from the french -- is with the french. they train for a month, and then not long after they're on the front, the greatest episode in the history of the regiment takes place, and that is the so-called battle of henry johnson. >> henry johnson, yeah. >> and as i mentioned at the beginning in my introduction, henry johnson has passed an opportunity, his application for the medal of honor has passed an important hurdle in that the is secretary of the army has approved it, and now it's with
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hagel and the chiefs of staff. >> now, henry johnson's story, that story i'd heard when i was in albany because he was from albany, the state capital. and i remember a gentleman by the name of john howe organizing the elected officials to secure resolutions that were sent to the congress on his behalf to have them recognized and then eventually bill clinton gave him an award, a recognition. >> bill clinton, he got the purple heart in the clinton administration. it was in the bush administration he was given the dsc, distinguished service cross. and many felt that was a way of undermightmining his ability to receive a medal of honor, that that would take the wind out of the sails of the movement to do it. but go ahead. >> but, so again want to go to the difference in treatment that
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the soldiers experienced in france as compared to the united states. >> well, first of all, let me say this, this is something that gets lost. and dr. green said it very well, that this was rather than exile going to the french, it was a liberation. >> uh-huh. >> and one of the things that gets lost in, you know, the benefits of going to the french, guess what? they knew how to fight a modern war. the americans did not know -- they were terribly prepared for a modern war. in fact, pershing was still an advocate of the marksmen of the, of the riflemen in trench warfare. so what good is that? this is a highly mechanized operation which, you know, a foot of ground means something. so the french were able to train
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these men much better than they could be trained by their american counterparts. they were told by their upper echelon leadership that you have to treat these men with respect. now, this doesn't mean that the french were, you know, devoid of racialism -- >> that's right. >> but they saw black americans differently than they saw their colonial subjects. they saw black americans as more american than african or black and that they had grown up in this, you know, cradle of civilization, as it were, of culture in, coming from new york. so they got very good training, very good in a short period, very good treatment from the french, and for the most part, they were out of reach of the aef and their meddling in the affairs of the black -- except for one thing.
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and, well, i shouldn't say except for one thing. the big thing was that they removed all the black officers from the regiment in july of 1918. you believe this? so we're trying to win a war, but it's more important to maintain the racial status quo to not have black officers be be able to prove themselves. the only one who was -- well, he actually left briefly but was returned to the regiment, was james reese york because they needed him for the band. the other part of this is one of the -- as general james well knows, the backbone of a military organization is its noncommissioned officers. and the 369th had great noncommissioned officers, very highly educated. henry plumber cheatham, chism,
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noble sissel, i could go on with these noncommissioned officers. horace pitman. many of them had outgrown their rank, but they could not become commissioned officers in the 369th, and they were transferred out. they wrote, cheatham did, about the resentment they had because these inexperienced, underqualified, less competent, far less competent white officers were placed in the regiment over them. so -- >> so, so the battle of henry johnson. and i noticed that you put quotes around henry johnson in the chapter for needham roberts you didn't. >> well, good point.
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this, it was actually two men. it was henry johnson and needham roberts who were involved in this engagement. a german raiding party had come up on this outpost, a far outpost that needham roberts and henry johnson were manning. and needham was knocked out of the action pretty early in this skirmish. but he continued throwing some grenades. but he was being carried off by members of this german raiding party. and henry johnson who had shot some already, had grenaded others already had, when his rifle jammed, used his rifle butt on another guy, and then they were dragging needham roberts away. but before henry could get to help needham, a german who he
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had hit with the gun came up on him, and henry gutted him with his bolo knife. and henry later jumped on top of the germans dragging theseham away, and took his bowie knife and jammed it through the head of one of the germans. and with that, they decided it was time to make a hasty retreat. so what happened was -- and, in fact, pershing mentioned henry johnson by both his first and last name. he mentions needham roberts by only one name in his official communique, and that's important. because there were people from the press who actually came to the regiment the day after this event x they wrote about -- and they wrote about it. lincoln ire, irving cobb and a guy named green who wrote -- and there were stories all over the place. this was the big story because there had been no significant
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victory or episode for american infantrymen in world war i up to that point. we had some aviators who were getting some press, but nobody on the ground. this is may of 1918. americans are hardly in the fight at that, at that time. remember, the 369th longest on the front, 191 days, all right? >> so what is the reaction of the american people both african-american and whites in response to these stories? >> well, let me say one thing, too, that there is a distinction made by the french who awarded the -- [inaudible] to both johnson and roberts -- >> okay. >> they promoted them to sergeant from private. but henry got the medal with gold palm -- >> right. >> -- which was the army recognition. that's the highest level.
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and needham got it with a silver star. of the division. and so that, there was a distinction made there. unfortunately, needham came home early, henry stayed despite the fact that both had very serious injuries. so needham got a lot of play when he came back without henry. >> i see. >> but when henry came back, he became the star of the show and essentially drowned out needham roberts and, in fact, a lot of people didn't even at some point know that needham was actually, you know, a partner in this event, that's how much the attention focused on henry. and, of course, needham is nowhere to be found in the parade. i do have footage of the parade, and you can see henry johnson standing with flowers in his happened and acknowledging -- in this his hand and acknowledging the crowd during the parade, but
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he became the man. in fact, when hayward and -- gave a speech in albany after the war, it was with henry johnson. and the flyer or bill for the event said "come here our hero speak." so needham was -- and this was a problem for needham. it caused him, i think, mental anguish that he had become forgotten. in fact, he wrote a pamphlet which basically tried to put him back into the center of what had happened. and they actually competed for speaking engagements. henry would follow needham around and tell them, you know, i'm the real hero of what happened that night. >> so, because i just got a signal, i'm trying to conclude and summarize. but i think this is appropriate because you're talking about them coming back. and, you know, the sense is that
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you already talked about they came back feeling as though they were the new negroes. based upon a new sense of self-confidence, pride, based upon their service. but at the same time, they faced the reality of a country that was still in the grips of, basically, racial apartheid. could you describe what happened in reference to to the their treatment when -- to their treatment when they came back as related to the organization of the tributes, the parades -- >> yep. >> and then more importantly, what happens to the regiment. >> okay. the interesting thing that i don't have in the book that i just found out is that when the men returned -- i've already mentioned that the regiment was disbanded. a lot of people don't know that. but the regiment was at camp upton, and that's where they
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would be discharged, from camp upton which is new rochelle area, long island sound. there was an order from general mcmichael who was the commandant of that camp that the black soldiers could only visit the black hostess hut, which was like a canteen for the soldiers, at that camp. and that became a cause is celeb. here we have -- cause celebre. here we have these men who have fought for freedom, a war to make the world safe for democracy, and new york's not safe for democracy. or we're not safe in it. then the parade, some people see the parade which is by many accounts a glorious occasion, no question when you see the reaction of the crowd. but there's a back story there. the war d. didn't want the -- department didn't want the parade to happen at all. they just wanted to release the
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men. then there was the, once again some white help from a group called the rocky mountain club which is a group of mining engineers, herbert hoover was a member of it, they press for, you know, allowing these people -- rodman wanna headachier was also -- wanamaker was also very important as well. wanamaker's department store which was big in philadelphia and new york. and then, so the war department says we'll let the original 15th men, the men of the 15th march. so that would have been maybe 800, 900 men. we're talking close to 3,000 men of the 369th. and the impressive display that you see with this parade will let you know the concerns that they had about allowing these guys with these bayonets glistening, you know, like -- and they described them in the
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press as seven feet tall, looming giants. [laughter] you know, all of that. so they were threatening. but the rocky mountain club says these men all fought, let them all march. and they marched on february 17th. and david lebbering lewis says this ushered in the harlem renaissance, the new negro, and to get to professor green's point, what happens in the scherr of 1919? riots -- summer of 1919. riots across the nation. and guess what? black soldiers, black veterans have bull's eyes on their back. they better not wear their uniforms, especially in the south. >> a number of them lynched. >> yes. >> because they were wearing their uniform. so, and let's try to conclude. >> yeah, somebody's hovering. >> yeah, let's try to conclude. [laughter] my last question would be there's been, you know, a few other books written. what was the, in all
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scholarship, you know, the compelling interest that you had in writing this book? what drove you, you know? what motivated you to write this, and what particular new knowledge did you find in writing this particular book? >> well, what motivated me was how important this regiment was and is and the sacrifice that these men made and the justice that they deserve was not given to many of them, if any, during their lifetime. and you see who the book is dedicated to, right? >> yes. >> it is dedicated to the men of the 15th/369th who served and sacrificed and to all who supported them. and we didn't mention the 15th women's auxiliary which was very important to the regiment's success -- >> that's right. >> and maybe that'll come up in the question and answer period. but that was the key for me, to to tell the story that the men
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deserved to have told about them. and there's just so much in terms of the sources that we have used, the research that we have done. and we, i also expanded the coverage. >> yes. >> we start much before other scholars do in terms of the regiment's history, and we finish a lot later. we bring the regiment up to the present. but also we focus on that postwar period, and a lot of people don't realize that the regiment didn't even exist when they came back. >> so, professor, this is an incredible book. i want to thank you. there's a card here that says "with sweeping vision, historical prevision -- and i will agree -- unparalleled research." i can't imagine the documents that you had that you researched, artifacts, diaries, letters to come up and to
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contextualize all of that information in this particular book. and it's an incredible book. i would suggest to the audience this is a cursory analysis. go out and buy the book, all right? [applause] thank you very much. >> thanks. great job. >> will thank you. >> you actually got me on the -- >> thank you so much. thank you to professor green, and thank you so much to professor sammons. now, before we adjourn to our refreshments, we'd like to the invite you to share your questions. i'd like you to direct those questions to clarence reynolds standing at the side with the mic. clarns is the director of the -- clarence is the director of the center for black literature, so, please, direct your questions there. and may i interject that one question now, mr. sammons? >> no. let the people -- [laughter] >> good evening and thank you
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for all your information and your research. i'm a natural hairstylist, and you just mentioned something about the 15th woman auxiliary. i wanted to know more about it since i haven't read your book. but recently in "the new york times" there was a op-ed article where the united states military had created an article called 670-1. and it spoke about braids and twists and dreadlocks and natural hair styles that we wear, you know, in our community. and just listening to the list of discrimination and racism back then with over 28,000 black women in the military today, they're focusing on what our hair looks like, not so much that we're on the battlefield. and i just wanted to, you know, find out more about the 15th regiment. >> okay. >> women's auxiliary.
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>> i want to ask you a question, and maybe somebody else -- because i meant to follow up on it. did the military decide to allow sheikhs to wear the head -- sikhs to wear the head wraps? >> i'm not sure. >> i think they might have. >> [inaudible] >> oh, it is. well, that's kind of a related thing, but no question. but let's get to the larger -- there's a racial issue, but there's a gender issue -- >> right. >> -- as well with that. and we know that the military has not been kind to women. and still is not, and we know what is happening with the sexual assault. which is rampant in the military. but the 15th women's auxiliary was headed by susan elizabeth frazier. anybody ever heard of susan elizabeth frazier? she is the -- and i'm sure that dr. patterson knows -- the first black woman to teach in a integrated school in new york
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city. the black teachers had to teach at, in all-black schools if they were to teach. they didn't teach in integrated or in white schools. it was a lengthy court battle for her to achieve this remarkable, you know, stature. that was in 1895. she was the president of the women's auxiliary. m.c. lawton who had these women's clubs was the vice president. and charles ward fillmore's wife, marie, was the secretary. his daughter was also in the 15th women's auxiliary. what did they do? they helped families of the men with finances, but with supplies, with food. they helped the men -- you wouldn't believe what the men in the regiment didn't have. we would think that this would be offered, issued by the
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military. it wasn't. you know, toothbrushes, combs, etc., all these things the women's auxiliary provided. but something else too, the silent protest march of 1917. >> i was going to -- >> right. and the women were very important to the organization. we always hear about a. if phillip randolph, but the women were very important, were front and center in this march. but also made statements about what they wanted. and, basically, they were demanding that if this war is to make the world safe for democracy, then we have to be beneficiaries of this, you know, new democracy. in america. so they were also voices. and, in fact, m.c. hawton would sign -- lawton would sign a petition and wanted official
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representation with president will soften because wilson wasn't doing anything about what happened in east st. louis. that's why we have the silent protest on march. and theodore roosevelt came out and attacked will soften for not doing -- wilson for not doing anything about this atrocity. >> maybe you could give a few more details about the east st. louis atrocity. >> well, it's a complicated thing. it's, you know, there was questions about black threatening white economic interests, there was a accusation that somebody had raped someone, a black man was lynched by a mob, and there was actually the other thing is no protection from the illinois national guard. the governor didn't send anyone
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out. and then people were saying if you sent the 8th illinois out, then what happened after that initial lynching would not have occurred. >> that's right. >> the wholesale massacre of blacks in east st. louis. but my grace is a factor -- my gration is a factor, there's a whole bunch of issues, and you have a catalyst for accusations of rape. >> uh-huh. >> do you have a question? if you have a question, why don't you line up -- [inaudible] >> yes. [laughter] >> good evening. i appreciate your information that you've given. it's very interesting. now, you keep mentioning, i heard you mention noble sis l. are you talking about the musician? >> >> absolutely. >> okay. and also i just heard you
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mention theodore roosevelt. diss the 369th or the 15th have anything to do with the roughriders? >> no. >> cuba? >> no. they came later. there was no 15th in the spanish-american war. now, charles ward fillmore did serve -- here's an interesting -- i'm glad you raised the issue about the spanish-american war. charles ward fillmore served in the spanish-american war. he had been a major in the ohio national guard and was commander of a battalion there. and he was put in a unit called the colored immunes. there was a belief in the government and within the military that blacks were immune to tropical diseases. [laughter] so they used black -- on malaria, yellow fever, they used blacks to serve as nurses for those who contracted these diseases, and guess what happens? blacks die as a result. >> oh. >> in fact, fillmore contracted
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malaria but recovered from it. but you asked another question before -- >> noble -- >> noble sissel. he was recruited by james reese york to be in the regiment, right? he was the drum major -- >> that's right. >> a lot of people think that bill bo jangles robinson was the drum major because of stormy weather and all of that. bill never searched with the regiment. gilard thompson replaced noble sissel as the drum major. but noble sissel was a sergeant, he was transferred out. the other thing people don't know -- they think of him with u.v. blake after reese and the broadway shows, but he was a very famous bandleader. >> that's right. >> he had a big orchestra for many, many years, and i think noble sissel died in 1970
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something. >> '72. >> yeah. >> and one more question. james reese -- what led to his demise? do you know any details about that? >> well, you have to read the book. >> i got you, brother! [laughter] be. >> he had a mentally disturbed member of the regiment who had actually come out of an orphanage, and the guy stabbed him after a concert or during a concert in boston and -- with a penknife, and it hit the right, you know, artery or whatever, and that was the end. 1919, man, the man is gone. >> thank you. appreciate it. >> okay. yeah. >> good afternoon. >> good afternoon to you. >> my name is donald -- [inaudible] i'm chairman of the andy kirk research foundation, and i'm here representing randy westen -- [inaudible] asked me if i would come.
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>> good to see you too. >> and, yeah. so what i'd like to -- i can't, i got in a little late, so i really don't know. was there a tie-in to jack johnson and jim reese york? >> i don't know of any, to be perfectly honest. there might be, but i did not make that connection between york and jack johnson. but let me say something about randy westen. two things. one is he told me, you know, roger's struggle with finishing the book in time for this event -- [laughter] randy said he would have to take a cruise to finish be it. [laughter] but also, people, please mark your calendar. general james, mrs. james, november 9th and 10th there will be a symposium on hard hem's rattlers at nyu -- harlem's rattlers, and randy westen is giving a concert on november 9th of the music of james reese york. that's going to be 6 p.m. on
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november 9th, randy westen in concert. but you have of to promise you'll come to the events the next day, okay? [laughter] on monday. >> yeah, well, he -- [inaudible] appearing end of this month at concord baptist church. >> that's right. >> give him as much pr. [inaudible] [laughter] but my information about the tie-in to jack johnson is all dealing with the racial climate. and jack johnson stirred up a heck of a racial situation here much more than our people were catching hell then. >> oh, yeah. >> i caught hell in the racial climate, you see? so i see what has to happen. the people have to understand this was not just one part of
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the country. >> no, it wasn't. no. >> you see, it was heavy up here. >> yeah. >> it was heavy all over. so that civil rights thing of '65 changed a lot of things. >> yes. >> you can take it for granted if you want to -- >> that's right. >> but i never thought i would live to see the time that we are living in today back in 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. so i'm glad i came because you connect so many of the dots about the social climates and all like that at that time. we can even go back. but -- and these are the things we have to know. we have to know about this social and economic, political situation of that time, because we pass by it, and we don't understand it is our job to take us from that first thing, all
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men are created equal, for which thousands of blacks gave their lives, fought. >> yes. >> we're still in that revolution. but we keep forgetting it. and so we get a little prestige, you know -- [inaudible] it's about our freedom. you see? >> >> well -- >> and that's, and that's the thing i'd just like to, you know, just -- >> in my opinion with a topic like this, this room should be full. >> it should. >> it should be full. and i know with the advertising that it was given, there's no, no excuse. and that's something that we really have to work on. as i was saying, if you had snoop dogg in here, the line would be, you know, whatever street -- >> well, the thing of it is this, we have to understand marketing. >> yeah. >> we can't just give great
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affairs and expect the people to -- [inaudible] we've got to target the market. and all this, because this is something -- >> captive audience. >> -- a whole lot of people should be made aware of -- >> unfortunately, we're going to have to -- >> don't solve anything -- >> we're going to have to keep moving. we thank you so much for that comment. thank you so much. [applause] >> thank you. we're talking about everything. history does repeat itself, and i want to thank you again, professor sammons and professor green. but just one of the issues you raised was the effect, the impact of the media on the regiment and on this story. and what was fascinating to me initially reading it was when you talked about stormy weather -- >> yeah. >> -- and how that impacted on the telling of that story. can you share that with us? and also share with us how the media really misrepresented what
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was happening in terms of the regiment. >> well, i think i mentioned that the name "hellfighters" stuck in part because of the band being representative of the regiment. and it not only was a representative of the regiment that it came topsy anonymous with -- to be synonymous with the regiment at a certain point. in fact, in a scholarly book this person writes that james reese york was the leader of the 369th. not just the band, but of the 369th. bill "bo jangles" robinson, i think, is thought to have been a member of the regiment because of his role in stormy weather, and there's, you know, he mentions, you know, they got the french medal and how many days they were on the front, etc.
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but the prominent players in the film are james reese york, character earnest whitman plays the role, and then wilson and robinson who are both members of the band. the combat hero is dead, so-called kreme rogers -- clem rogers who's a fictitious character, and he's supposed to be selena, who was lena horne, brother. and there's some mention that he won this friend of medal, and he wanted selena to have it, and then she wears it, and i go into a lot of detail about what the symbolism of that. but that's the end of any discussion of the combat role of of the 369th. and the movie -- in fact, there's a magazine that bill williamson is reading that says
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it's recognizing the great accomplishments of blacks to the world of entertainment. i mean, that's paraphrasing, but as if blacks couldn't be lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. it's all about entertainment, and that's what the film is about although the 369th is, introduces the film. and, in fact, it goes from showing actual footage of the parade to this, you know, sort of sound stage view, and then it devolves into minstrelsy, literally, in the middle of the film. in fact, there are a couple of black-faced minstrels. but even that dance at the armory or whatever it is has these black women dancing to dipty do da, whatever, with
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sunflowers on the back that make them look as though they're in black face. the other interesting thing is all the black women are light-skinned. and the black men can be, you know, a variety of shades, but black women have to be light-skinned. that's in the entertainment world -- >> [inaudible] >> got you again. let me tell you something about bloomstein's department store. 1934 a boycott of bloomstein's department store. don't buy where you can't work, right? adam clayton powell and the group. all right? they settle, but guess what the agreement entailed? we'll hire black women. you've got it already. we'll hire black women because before you could only be janitors, elevator -- but they have to be light-skinned. that's the truth. yeah. >> thank you. >> [inaudible] still true today. [inaudible conversations]
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well, professor sammons, professor green, thank you so much. >> thank you. >> and we want to thank our audience for coming out. thank you, professor green, head of the english department, and clarns reynolds, director of the center for black literature and all of our senior military personnel -- [laughter] we thank you for coming out. and, again, this is a pivotal moment in our history. >> where uh-huh. >> we are able to tell our story. for real, and not leave anything out. the good, the bad, the ugly, it's all in the book. >> that's right. >> so you need to go and get the book. teach this to your children. we are going to bring it to our teachers so that they have it as a resource. keep this story going. keep this story alive and make it possible for other stories to
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be told. thank you again for coming out. thank you, medgar evers college. and we hope to join you again on another evening. and thank you to c-span for taking the time to come out and film this wonderful evening. [applause] thank you so much. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> interested in american history? watch american history television on c-span3 every weekend. 48 hours of people and events that help document the american story. visit for more information.
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>> here's a look at some books being published this week. frank miniter reports on gun technology and argues anti-gun lobbyists are deterring the implementation of innovation in "the future of the gun." british investigative reporter nick davies lays out his findings on the news of the world phone hacking scandal in "hack attack: the inside story of how the truth caught up with rupert murdoch." gail gutradt reports on kids living with or orphaned by hiv/aids in the book "in a rocket made of ice." sean mcfate who formerly worked for an international security service in africa provides an inside look at the world of military contractors and how they're becoming a greater part of the u.s. military. david eimer, a former china correspondent for the sunday telegraph, examines the social and political landscape of


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